The Best New Learning Book

The best new learning book doesn’t exactly look like a learning book, but trust me on this one, folks.

Cover of Badass: Making User Awesome, by Kathy Sierra


As I may have mentioned a few times in the past, Kathy Sierra’s stuff is FANTASTIC and this new book is no exception. I realize that nothing on the cover says “Learning & Development” exactly, but the mission of the title goes right to the heart of the whole purpose of L&D.

Specifically, though, this is one of the best accessible books out there that translates the science of expertise and skill development into compulsively readable material:




– images from Badass, used with permission

I read a review copy a few months ago, and have been stupid excited with anticipation of the book actually coming out. You can buy it here (and you should).



An Elearning Design Reading List


Several things have led to me actually writing a blog post.  First, I’m home for two whole weeks straight (this alone is a small miracle).  I’m also relatively up to date with my inbox and to do list (much larger miracles). I’m also indulging in some productive procrastination (which is probably the real reason).

Anyway, I typically keep a list of resources when I teach the ATD (ASTD) Advanced Instructional Design for Elearning Certificate, and I keep thinking that I should put the list somewhere.  So here it is:

Blogs et al:


Software Tools:

  • Branchtrack and Versal  – two interesting new elearning tools — can’t fully endorse them as they are still beta-ish, but interesting to look at.
  • Quandary Examples – a free (and unsupported) tool for making branched learning games.

Research-based Resources

Behavioral Economics


Anything by Kathy Sierra

The “I can’t believe I forgot…” Add-ons

Updated — some new books that have come out since I originally wrote this post:


Designing for Data and Learning UX

Hey folks, a couple of things that have been happening lately:

The fabulous Janet Laane Effron and Sean Putnam are doing a MOOC on learning design for data.  This is going to be a big deal in our field, and this is really nice, accessible opportunity to learn more.


It starts today (May 27th), but it’s definitely not to late to join.  You’ll also get to see the curatr platform, which is one of the more interesting learning interfaces to be developed in the last few years.

Also, I did a presentation at the ASTD (erm, ATD) ICE Conference on User Experience (UX) for learning.  Slides are here:



Stephen Anderson – From Paths to Sandboxes

Sat in on Karl Fast and Stephen Anderson‘s Design for Understanding workshop at the IA Summit last week, and it was double-plus-good.

Here are Stephen’s slides from his IA Summit presentation.  Excellent stuff relating to autonomy in learning environments, and multitudes more:

Immersive Learning

I have this great little shelf in the bookshelf app on my ipad.  It’s just books by people I know.  I feel genuinely privileged to know so many people with so many interesting things to say.

Some of them are drafts for books that are still in progress., but one that’s already out in the world is Koreen Pagano’s Immersive Learning: Designing for Authentic Practice:

immersive learning

It’s great, for a few different reasons:

Reason 1: The subtitle — Designing for Authentic Practice.  So immersive learning environments can sometimes be shiny objects.  Remember when everything L&D was going to start happening in Second Life?  Yep, that didn’t happen.

One of the reason’s it didn’t happen was because there was because the focus was on the technology (“Ooo – we can build a virtual replica of our corporate university!”) and not on the really interesting part — the possibility for high-context practice. We remember more if we learn something in the same environment where we will use the information, so virtual worlds were interesting for that reason, but that got lost in the hype cycle. Koreen rightly focuses on the real purpose for immersive learning – high-context practice environments.  It’s about the practice, not the technology.

Reason 2: The case studies — So, one of the problems with a lot of L&D books is that they are more about what can be done, rather than examples of what has been done. This naturally happens with new technologies.  When they were brand new, both mobile and xAPI have had to start with the possibilities rather than real examples, until some critical mass built, allowing for case examples.

Immersive learning suffered similarly for a long time, but if anybody is able to speak from direct experiences, it’s Koreen.  The book is worth it for the case studies alone. Lots of really good examples of use, with the kind of nitty gritty details you need to help inform your own practice.

Reason 3: Underwear Gnomes — how can you not love a book that starts with a really well-played South Park reference?  It’s indicative of Koreen’s overall accessible, entertaining style, which makes the book a really pleasurable read.





Manifestos and MCQs

Hey folks,

So a couple of quick things.  A few of us launched this today: — would love to know if it seems useful 🙂

And second, I was collecting some resources on writing good multiple choice questions (which is really hard), and thought they might be useful to post here

Will Thalheimer has some things on his site – mostly shorter job aids:
He also wrote three articles on scenario-based questions that are here:
Cathy Moore also has some good blog posts:
A number of universities have guidelines for their faculty — you can probably find several by googling.  For example:


Usable Learning Busy-ness

Hey folks — am returned from all the San Francisco adventures, and am happy to be home.

Bay Bridge

Now that I have time to draw breath, I’ll actually finish some of those blog posts, but  here’s a round up of stuff that’s been going on, in no particular order:

  • Just got back from a busy week at ASTD ICE (did a certificate workshop, two panels, speed-mentoring, planning committee meetings and a session) and it was lovely to see and meet so many people. I mentioned that I did a webinar earlier in the week (a shorter version of my session on game design for learning), and if you missed it (and are interested), there’s a recording here.
  • Just arranged to do a half-day workshop for UX Week in SF August 21-22 on Change Management.  Really excited about this one 🙂

As soon as I post this, I’ll remember six more things, but that’s what the edit button is for, right?


  • ELearning Guild Thought Leaders Webinar on June 11th, 10:30 PT/1:30 ET – the topic will be Design for Behavior Change – registration info here

Problem Statements – The much shinier version

The last blog post I wrote was about starting design with a problem rather than a solution, and it came from a conversation with Stephen Anderson about a presentation he was putting together for the IA Summit.

Here’s his presentation, and (of course) it’s great stuff:

You can’t solve problems you don’t know about

So, several conversations recently are coming together:

– Judy Unrein’s post on Mike Monteiro’s How Designers Destroyed the World talk, and her discussion about how designers can’t be just be order takers (go watch the talk – it’s amazing)

– A conversation with Stephen Anderson about his upcoming IA Summit talk called Stop Doing What You Are Told! about reframing the design problem (soooo looking forward to those slides)

– Dan Lockton’s article in the guardian about sustainable design, which talks about how, if people aren’t doing things the way we would like, we should figure out how to solve their problems, rather than treating them as the problem.

Getting to the problem

So, this is hard.  I think designers are often given solutions to implement, rather than problems to solve.   I sometime think that’s half my job with clients — getting a clear statement on the problem they are trying to solve, or the opportunity they are trying to realize. It’s something where the outside perspective can really help — when you live with problems all the time, they frequently become tacit.

When I was teaching undergraduates, this was a hard idea to communicate, but it’s a key skill that everyone needs to have. I used to have a really simple card sorting game that I’d have my students play to see if they were being given a problem to solve, or a solution to implement.  If it was a solution, then they had to work on a way to get the actual problem clearly stated.


I think, in light of Dan’s article, I’d tweak it a bit more, and talk about strategies for unpacking even the problem statements (e.g. the card “Sales people aren’t able to answer customer technical questions” would probably be better as “Customers have technical questions that they need answered during the sales process”).

I have several different questions that help me dig for the problem:

  • “Uh huh, and what do they need to do with that?” or “What do they need to do differently?”
  • “What bad thing will happen if they don’t know that?”
  • “Can you give me an example?”
  • “If you woke up tomorrow and we’d implemented this perfectly, what would be different?”
  • “What does is it look like when they get it wrong? What are common mistakes?”

Curious to know what other people do — what do you use to understand what the real problem/opportunity/challenge is?


Narrative Strategies for Learning

Had a lovely time at the Learning Solutions Conference last week.  Did a full day pre-con on Gameful Learning Design with Rick Raymer, which was a lot of fun.

I also did a session on Narrative Techniques for Learning.  When I was working on Design For How People Learn, I listened a lot to a podcast on storytelling techniques.


A lot of learning and development folks *are* fiction writers, in the form of learning scenarios, examples and case studies, but (in my experience) it’s frequently pretty dull stuff (and I say this as someone who has written some dull scenarios myself).

So this session is about pulling some of the specific strategies that fiction writers use to into learning scenarios.  There are a lot of other interesting ways to explore storytelling in terms of meta-structures, psychology and cultural constructs.  This isn’t that presentation (though I’ll probably do that one too, one of these days).

This presentation is focused on specific strategies for making learning stories more interesting.